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des·​o·​late ˈde-sə-lət How to pronounce desolate (audio)
: devoid of inhabitants and visitors : deserted
a desolate abandoned town
: joyless, disconsolate, and sorrowful through or as if through separation from a loved one
a desolate widow
: showing the effects of abandonment and neglect : dilapidated
a desolate old house
: barren, lifeless
a desolate landscape
: devoid of warmth, comfort, or hope : gloomy
desolate memories
desolately adverb
desolateness noun


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des·​o·​late ˈde-sə-ˌlāt How to pronounce desolate (audio)
desolated; desolating

transitive verb

: to make desolate:
: to deprive of inhabitants
The neighboring towns were desolated.
: to lay waste
desolating the city with bombs
: forsake
their desolated families back home
: to make wretched
desolater noun
or desolator
desolatingly adverb

Did you know?

What is the word origin of desolate?

The word desolate hasn't strayed far from its Latin roots: its earliest meaning of "deserted" mirrors that of its Latin source dēsōlātus, which comes from the verb dēsōlāre, meaning "to leave all alone, forsake, empty of inhabitants." That word's root is sōlus, meaning "lone, acting without a partner, lonely, deserted," source too of sole, soliloquy, solitary, solitude, and solo. Desolate also functions as a verb with its most common meanings being "to lay waste" and "to make wretched; to make someone deeply dejected or distressed."

Choose the Right Synonym for desolate

alone, solitary, lonely, lonesome, lone, forlorn, desolate mean isolated from others.

alone stresses the objective fact of being by oneself with slighter notion of emotional involvement than most of the remaining terms.

everyone needs to be alone sometimes

solitary may indicate isolation as a chosen course

glorying in the calm of her solitary life

but more often it suggests sadness and a sense of loss.

left solitary by the death of his wife

lonely adds to solitary a suggestion of longing for companionship.

felt lonely and forsaken

lonesome heightens the suggestion of sadness and poignancy.

an only child often leads a lonesome life

lone may replace lonely or lonesome but typically is as objective as alone.

a lone robin pecking at the lawn

forlorn stresses dejection, woe, and listlessness at separation from one held dear.

a forlorn lost child

desolate implies inconsolable grief at loss or bereavement.

desolate after her brother's death

dismal, dreary, bleak, gloomy, cheerless, desolate mean devoid of cheer or comfort.

dismal indicates extreme and utterly depressing gloominess.

dismal weather

dreary, often interchangeable with dismal, emphasizes discouragement resulting from sustained dullness or futility.

a dreary job

bleak suggests chill, dull, and barren characteristics that utterly dishearten.

the bleak years of the depression

gloomy often suggests lack of hope or promise.

gloomy war news

cheerless stresses absence of anything cheering.

a drab and cheerless office

desolate adds an element of utter remoteness or lack of human contact to any already disheartening aspect.

a desolate outpost

Examples of desolate in a Sentence

Adjective a desolate house abandoned many years ago he was less desolate after adopting a rescue dog Verb totally desolated the city with aerial bombs
Recent Examples on the Web
Oceans Are the Real Continents The Bottom Line Both desolate and exquisite. Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Sep. 2023 Jagged peaks and desolate terrain were the muses of Charlotte Butler Skinner. Jacoba Urist, Smithsonian Magazine, 1 Sep. 2023 One of the most desolate and lonely places in the world is also becoming the most dangerous. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, 14 Aug. 2023 Prosecutors have said that Momeni, 38, planned the April 4 attack that left Lee dying on a desolate San Francisco street. Janie Har, Fortune, 1 Aug. 2023 Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto America’s mayors have found a favorite solution for their cities’ desolate postpandemic downtowns: turn vacant corporate towers into bustling apartment buildings. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 28 July 2023 These vistas of the Utah-Arizona canyon country stirred Zdarsky’s imagination with fantasies of riding horseback across the desolate grandeur of the American desert, a lever-action Winchester rifle at his side. Smithsonian Magazine, 17 Aug. 2023 Foe, adapted from an Iain Reid novel of the same name, centers around a married midwestern couple in the year 2065, living in a desolate environment battled by decades of climate change, as a stranger offers them the chance to change their own futures and that of humanity. Hilary Lewis, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Aug. 2023 The island previously hosted a US Air Force base during World War II that had over 15,000 soldiers stationed in this desolate island. Erik Klemetti, Discover Magazine, 15 Aug. 2023
At first glance, the hardscrabble terrain of Big Bend National Park, which hugs a bend in the Rio Grande between Texas and Mexico, looks like a moonscape: desolate and slightly threatening. Pam Leblanc, Condé Nast Traveler, 5 Jan. 2023 Although the terrain is arid and desolate now, around 10,000 years ago this was a lagoon near Lake Turkana, surrounded by lush vegetation. Hillary Waterman, Discover Magazine, 2 Jan. 2019 In the past few weeks, the moviegoing landscape has taken a drastic turn from dreary to downright desolate. Rebecca Rubin, Variety, 30 Aug. 2022 Like any masterful monologue, one felt invited inside the mind behind that desolate yet brave voice. Hannah Edgar, Chicago Tribune, 3 June 2022 For eight weeks, the streets of Paris were empty of traffic and silent, the sidewalks desolate, all but essential food stores closed. Rachel Donadio, The New York Review of Books, 23 July 2020 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'desolate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English desolat, desolate "deserted, lonely, distressed," borrowed from Latin dēsōlātus, past participle of dēsōlāre "to leave all alone, forsake, empty of inhabitants," from dē- de- + -sōlāre, verbal derivative of sōlus "lone, acting without a partner, lonely, deserted," of uncertain origin


Middle English desolaten (in past participle desolatid "deserted, ruined"), borrowed from Latin dēsōlātus, past participle of dēsōlāre "to leave all alone, forsake, empty of inhabitants" — more at desolate entry 1

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of desolate was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near desolate

Cite this Entry

“Desolate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
des·​o·​late ˈdes-ə-lət How to pronounce desolate (audio)
: having no companionship : lonely
: showing the results of abandonment and neglect : dilapidated
: lacking signs of life : barren
a desolate landscape
: cheerless
desolate thoughts
desolately adverb
desolateness noun


2 of 2 verb
des·​o·​late ˈdes-ə-ˌlāt How to pronounce desolate (audio)
desolated; desolating
: to make or leave desolate


Middle English desolat "having no inhabitants or visitors, deserted," from Latin desolatus, past participle of desolare "to abandon," from de- "from, away" and solus "alone" — related to sole entry 4, solitude, solo

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